What is the lake of fire? Many Christians equate the term with the doctrine of eternal torment in hell. They sometimes call it being “separated” from God’s presence.
In the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Sin Wins, I addressed the first of Chan’s three points regarding the “open gates” in Revelation. Today, I’ll address Chan’s second point:
Second, there’s nothing in the text that says the lake of fire is intended to purify the wicked.
Although there is much to be said about the lake of fire, what it is, and more importantly what it isn’t, this blog will only focus on Chan’s claim. Is it true that in the book of Revelation (the only book of the Bible that uses the phrase “lake of fire”) there is nothing to support the idea that its intended use is to purify the wicked?
First of all, this is a loaded question, like the question “When did you stop beating your wife?” Chan puts words in the mouths of Christian universalists by including in his question the unqualified statement, “the lake of fire is intended to purify the wicked”. If I were to leave that statement alone, then Chan and others who agree with him could say that Christian universalists believe there are two ways to be saved, by believing in Jesus or by the lake of fire. They can then dismiss anything and everything thereafter, because they are sure (and rightly so) that Jesus is the only way to be “saved”. So before I attempt to answer Chan’s argument, I’d like to clarify that Christian universalists do not believe the lake of fire “saves” anyone. The work of Christ is what accomplishes salvation.
Now, on to the question. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if one reads the scriptures in the modern English translations only, then he or she will likely NOT see much evidence to connect the idea of purification to the lake of fire. In English, we read, “lake of fire burning with brimstone”, but in Greek, we read, “limnhn tou purov kai qeiou”.
I’m really not trying to get over-technical with this. It is important that we look at each word, in order to better understand “the Revelation of Jesus Christ”. The first word, “limnhn” is translated into English as “lake”. The root word for “limnhn” is “limen”, which means “harbor” and it is associated with the nearness of the shore. The second word “tou” is translated into English as “of”. In Greek, “tou” means “this”, “that”, or “these” – a definite article. The third word, “purov” is translated into English as “fire” and it can also be translated as “burn”. The word “purov” (and Hebrew equivalent) is used elsewhere in scripture as something other than a literal burning fire. Here are a few examples:
1. in testing precious metals for purity (1 Pet. 5:4), used to aid a metaphor about faith
2. as a metaphor for kindness toward enemies (Rom. 12:20)
3. as a metaphor (Rev. 3:18) for purification, in reference to spiritual riches
4. the visible manifestation of the Spirit of God (Ex. 3:2, Acts 2:3)
5. the eyes of the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:14)
6. regarding salvation “saved through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15)
The word “kai” in English is “and”, and in Greek it is a conjunction that can mean “also, even, indeed, but”. Finally, the word “qeiou” is translated into English as “brimstone”. In Greek, this is a very interesting word, “theion”, which is defined as “divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify, and to ward off disease”. The root word is “theios”, which means “God”.
If we put this all together, here’s what we get:
In the nearness of the shore, a harbor that metaphorically “burns” is associate with testing, kindness, the Spirit of God, and salvation. Indeed, the incense of God has the power to purify.
I’m not making this up, people. It’s all there, for whoever wants to study something other than church-approved doctrine-proofed publications. This view of the lake of fire is also consistent with another scripture in Revelation:
…he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, that hath been mingled unmixed in the cup of His anger, and he shall be tormented in fire and brimstone before the holy messengers, and before the Lamb (14:10)
The Greek word which is horribly translated in English as “tormented” is “basanizo“, which is defined as, “to test (metals) by the touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal”. This is not “separated from God’s presence” at all; the scripture specifically states that this testing takes place “before the Lamb”.
I don’t think that the lake of fire is jolly butterflies, flowers, and gumdrops. The warnings in scripture should be taken seriously. They are there for a reason. But I also don’t think that we should ditch the glorious truth that “love never fails” and “with God nothing is impossible” based on English translations and the traditions of men.
Needless to say, I really don’t understand why Chan sees “nothing in the text” to support a redemptive lake of fire. It’s there for those “who have eyes to see”.
Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: In This Life